A lawsuit filed last week adds USA Diving to the list of U.S. Olympic Committee-certified national governing bodies that have allegedly enabled the abuse of young female athletes. The lawsuit, filed in an Indiana federal court, describes one coach in particular who has habitually raped his divers, and the indifference of organizations that let him escape real punishment for his actions.
The lawsuit names USA Diving, Ohio State University’s Diving Club, and a coach named Will Bohonyi as defendants. Bohonyi’s actions are the focus of the suit, in which he’s specifically accused of sexually abusing two of his former divers. From 2009 to 2011, while an assistant coach at the Indiana Diving Club, Bohonyi is accused of regularly demanding sex from a college-aged female diver. From the lawsuit:
The diver was able to distance herself from Bohonyi when she transferred to another university for her final two years of school.
But in 2014, the lawsuit says, Bohonyi had a similarly abusive relationship with another one of his divers—this time while a coach at the Ohio State Diving Club, a junior program that practices on OSU’s campus and falls under the school’s Department of Recreational Sports in the Office of Student Life. In July 2014, Bohonyi forced a 16-year-old diver to send him nude pictures of herself and have sex with him. Bohonyi also made demands of the diver that included, according to the lawsuit, having her “use a turkey baster to force ejaculate into Bohonyi’s mouth.”
The relationship was quickly discovered that month by a teammate. But when the teammate went to the Ohio State Diving Club’s head coach during a meet in Tennessee to report it, the lawsuit says that “neither USA Diving nor Ohio State took any immediate action against Bohonyi.” Instead, the lawsuit says the Ohio State administration decided to send the diver, but not Bohonyi, home from the meet. John Appleman, the coach that the teammate talked to, remains the club’s head coach, according to the team’s website. (Update: Ohio State University says Appleman has been placed on leave.)
Bohonyi was fired by Ohio State Diving Club shortly afterward. But between September 2014 and March 2015, he continued to rape the 17-year-old diver, as the lawsuit describes in graphic detail. He coerced and manipulated the diver “into sexual acts by saying that she ‘owed him this’ and that she had lost him his job,” the suit says. It adds:
But despite being aware of the Ohio State investigation, the suit says that USA Diving initially didn’t investigate Bohonyi until they also heard about the coach’s abuse of the other diver from an Indiana coach. The lawsuit also says that, despite having “hundreds of pictures of child pornography produced at Bohonyi’s direction,” neither Ohio State nor USA Diving ever turned over this evidence to law enforcement.
USA Diving finally placed Bohonyi on a “permanently ineligible” list in February 2015, but according to the lawsuit, they’ve completely failed to prevent him from continuing to coach divers. According to the suit, Bohonyi was coaching female divers (who were minors) in Westerville, Ohio as recently as 2017. USA Diving also continues to have a business relationship with a company called Nayked Apparel, which employs Bohonyi as a “promotional and marketing specialist.” The suit says that this partnership allows Bohonyi to claim that he is not actually banned by USA Diving.
When asked for comment by the Indianapolis Star, both Ohio State and USA Diving issued vague statements insisting they take providing safe environments very seriously.
USA Diving is just the latest governing body to face sickening allegations of abuse inflicted on young athletes. Within the past year, the abuse-enabling cultures of both USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics have also come to light. The details laid out in the suit expose the crucial organizational flaws that make young athletes in Olympic sports like diving so vulnerable to sexual abuse.
If you want to compete in the Olympics as an American diver, you have to be chosen by the coaches and executives who make up USA Diving. USA Diving coaches have at least the illusion of absolute power, giving them the ability to exploit their athletes however they choose. Sexual abusers thrive in cultures that create and maintain massive imbalances of power, and there’s not much more of disparity possible than there is between a young girl and a man who controls whether or not she can achieve her dreams.
The full lawsuit is embedded below: